LINCOLN, Neb – Today the ACLU of Nebraska sent legal and policy guidance to all public school superintendents in Nebraska reminding them of their existing obligations under Nebraska and federal law to prevent and respond to harassment, intimidation and bullying in schools. The letter encouraged schools to review state and federal law to ensure that all schools “maintain a safe and healthy school climate” for their students.
“Parents, students and educators across Nebraska have a similar goal: to ensure all students have an equal opportunity to access Nebraska’s great public schools, so they can graduate and give back to their families and communities,” said Rose Godinez, Legal and Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Nebraska. “When harassment or bullying occurs, particularly when it goes without a strong and swift response from school leaders, those students are less likely to graduate or go on to higher education.”
Recent incidents around the state have generated media coverage and calls from students and advocates to ensure a positive environment exists for all students. At school-sponsored sporting events in Minden and North Platte, visiting Latino student athletes from Lexington faced students shouting, “go back to your country,” wearing “border patrol” shirts and using a fake “border wall.” Schuyler High School’s Athletic Director reported that his students regularly face racial slurs as well as being spat on.
Data from the Department of Education suggests these are not isolated incidents in Nebraska. The Department, through the National Center for Education Statistics, surveys school bullying every other year. While Nebraska’s rate of bullying has been slightly above national rates in all recent surveys, Nebraska tied for the highest rates of bullying in 2015, the most recent year compiled.
“Schools can and should be environments where students and educators can have vibrant discussions about community issues, including immigration, LGBTQ people, racial justice and more,” said Danielle Conrad, Executive Director of the ACLU of Nebraska. “Schools have a clear duty to prevent and respond to bullying. Schools can do this while supporting free speech and due process for all students. Policies and practices that balance these core rights ensure success for all students and are rooted in our state’s strong constitutional promise of education for all.”
If a student has experienced harassment or bullying, the ACLU encourages a student or their parents or guardians to first try to work with the school to address the situation as required by Nebraska law. If the school fails to do so, the ACLU is willing to step in.
“The ACLU of Nebraska has a consistent successful track record of resolving complaints from parents and students about bullying without needing to pursue litigation. A variety of community organizations in Nebraska offer programs proven to reduce rates of bullying in our schools,” continued Godinez. “It would be better for schools and all of their students to focus on training and prevention that ultimately keeps the school’s resources focused where they should be: the classroom.”